Wearing Clean Underwear

It started with the earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand. Anyone remember that one? It was a month ago. It was in the news and on the social media and everywhere, as always happens, there were stories about being prepared. Packing your emergency kit. Making a plan. Carrying cash. Granola bars, lots of them.

And I looked at the kids. And they looked back at me. And I thought, ‘Where do I want to be when the big one hits? Do I want to be in an old office building? On public transit? Or here, with my kids, so that at least three of us are together.’

Assuming the big earthquake doesn’t kill us on a Saturday. I mean if I could predict the day of the week I’d hardly be here yakkity yakking about it, would I. I’d be on CNN or dial-a-psychic or something.

Coincidentally, it was time to make important decisions about my working future. As you may know, I am on an unpaid, extended leave from my office job. I had pushed my going-back-to-work date from April to October, thinking it would be good to take September to get Trombone settled in school, and get the kids settled with their as-yet-unspecified-caregiver. I was, notably, not making any decisions. Not because I am lazy, but because I didn’t want to. People would ask me, ‘so – got a daycare lined up? Got a nanny?’ And I would shrug and put it off.

Many possibilities floated around in my head, like clouds of dust floating in sunlight. I liked watching the dust float. I liked that there were possibilities. I didn’t so much want to nail down those possibilities and make them happen. Kind of like, sure I could dust. But the motes in the sunlight, they are so pretty.

I didn’t want to go back to work but I was convinced it was time. Why?

1. We had budgeted and saved enough money to pay for two years of me being home, and that money was almost gone.
2. I owe my job 18 months worth of service to pay for my maternity leave, so I have to go back ‘at some point’ within five years of leaving.
3. Uh, I said I would?

When I made the decision in 2009 to stay home for two more years, it wasn’t to do with the kids. It was about me. I don’t like my office job. I liked being at home more than I liked my office job, but just barely. Mostly, I didn’t want to spend my days commuting, dropping and picking up children at daycare, stressing about peanut free lunches and paying through the nose for the privilege. Just so that I could go to a job that, see above, I don’t like.

But this time, the decision felt like it was about the kids. That was confusing. Obviously I don’t always love being at home. You can review my tweet stream for proof. Sometimes I hide in the bathroom with the door locked. Sometimes I let them watch extra television so that I can breathe. Sometimes when they’re red-faced and angry and bored to tears in our little living room and all I want to do is make supper that they probably won’t eat, I think, is this the right thing? Really? Wouldn’t they be happier in an environment where someone would enjoy being with them? Or at least be paid to pretend?

Something had definitely shifted. It is easier for me, these days, to be at home full time. The kids are more independent; they look at books and they draw and play together, sometimes. I have friends. I have carved out the space to write and be alone. This isn’t just survival parenting anymore, this is the good stuff. This is the day-to-day magic. We have found our groove. It doesn’t feel boring all the time anymore, it feels fleeting. It feels short term instead of dinosaur years. It feels manageable. (and yes, I waited a full month to write this, just to make sure it wasn’t an unnaturally good week that week/drugs in the water/what-have-you)

If I had a career I loved, then it might be a different decision, because if I had a career I loved I would feel torn between two things I love. Emotionally, I do not feel torn about this decision at all. Financially it is a different story.

(Oh and by the way, here is a pop quiz:
Q: What do I love to do?
A: Write!
Q: If I went back to work full time, thus adding a second full time job to my first, would I have more? or less? time to write?
A: Less! Sucker!)

The more I thought about it, the more sure I became. I really wanted to stay home. We had to re-negotiate our mortgage this year anyway (home owners for five years now!) and we got a lower interest rate. We borrowed some money and that lowered our mortgage payments even more. I found two tax returns in a bank account I never use. (I know. It is both ridiculous and true.) Saint Aardvark said, heck yeah. Go for it. The universe was lining up its stars to tell me that it would be OK.

What a relief! I enjoyed the decision for a week. Then we got sick.

The whole time we were sick (pretty much the whole month of March, on and off. March, you may go suck it now.) I tested myself. “How about now?” I would ask, “When you have to spend your last precious 45 minutes of naptime holding Fresco so he can breathe and sleep at the same time? And then spend the afternoons in the courtyard watching children be children, which is not so interesting. And arguing about whether or not toasted bread is toast. It’s just laundry and cereal, laundry and cereal. Your head hurts all the time. Fresco is throwing stuffed puppies at you. How about now?”

Yes. The answer has always been yes.

In September, Trombone will start school. He will be gone six hours a day, five days a week. Which is fine, actually, because he can be a real pain in the butt. In two years, Fresco will start school. He will be gone six hours a day, five days a week. Hopefully he will be using a toilet by then.

A wise woman with two older sons said to me, “When they’re gone, they’re gone.” No, not entirely. And yes, letting go is important. I’m not going to stand outside their school and howl at the windows like some deranged husky. But I want to do this now, while I can. Later, when I can’t anymore, I will do something else.

I have my entire life to work for money. I have my entire life to do menial paperwork and gossip about Mary. I have my entire life, which might be two or twenty or thousands of days long. I don’t have their entire lives. Realistically, I have the first five years of their lives.
Which doesn’t feel very long, all of a sudden, with the world warring and disintegrating along fault lines and causing nuclear reactors to leak. All I can do is put on clean underwear and hope for the best.

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14 Responses to Wearing Clean Underwear

  1. crunchy says:

    Oh sing it sister.
    Why do you think I had a third???? Now I gotta another 3 years of ‘needing to be there’…despite the fact that we just cannot afford it.

    But I cannot afford to be in a ‘job’ full time either..all the money would be in childcare….so what is the point.

    Thus am working frantically at turning ‘blogging’ into a real but STAY AT HOME job.

    I like being there for the kids..even the ones at school. They call when they are hurt or sick…I go get them.

    I pick them up from school….I am there.

    The school is our designated meeting for that big earthquake.

    Their lives are our families routine.

    So here we are…broke..in a crappy house…but doing it for ….???

  2. Jen says:

    Without getting all weird and stuff? I’m so happy for you!

  3. Liz says:

    I can’t know about the childcare side, but life’s too short to spend time earning money at something you don’t love.

  4. Arwen says:

    Oh, hi! So much recognition! You’ve said it beautifully.
    And it does end, those fleeting years, and then you’ll have time to be utterly flustered about career — uh, I mean, joyfully return to the workforce!

  5. val says:


  6. Lynne says:

    There is not a more important job than caring for our children. We blink and then they are all grown up. It is such a short amout of time that we have them. I have never looked back and thought I should have done it another way. We had some very tight times when the boys were small but we made it and they had me to dry their tears and see their smiles. Right on!! Your doing the world a favor!!

  7. Joanna says:

    Well said! Very proud of you. xoxo

  8. Megan says:

    Yup. This pretty much sums it up. But, I need to have that second kid soon because otherwise I’m looking at ten years out of the work force.

  9. miranda says:

    great post – as always, reading your words makes me feel less alone and more like a functional human being, having someone else voice thoughts that i often think.

    kudos to you for deciding to go with your heart/gut/brain. 🙂

  10. Ginger says:

    Life’s too short to spend at a job you don’t love (if you don’t have to!).

    I’m hugely excited for you (and jealous of you!).

  11. elswhere says:

    I am selfishly glad that there’s more chance of writing meetings and mutual goonage with you in the coming year or two.

    And also happy for you.

  12. Stephanie says:

    First, oddly, this is the second post that reference underwear today.

    Second, brilliantly, yay you. I don’t have kids (or, not yet anyway), and I struggle with these issues too. What if I do have kids? What do I do? Being unemployed and stuck at home was LAME. But going to work in a shitty office was LAME. That is the trick, isn’t it? To find something you love at home, and in your career. Writing! Yes! But then…somehow you have to get someone to pay you for it….ack, life. What thrills.

  13. Perpetual Breadcrumbs says:

    This is a ridiculously well-timed post. I am certain you wrote it just for me.

    I’m glad you’re feeling good, and I’m really glad you are keeping the carved-out writing time.

  14. Amber says:

    I think it sounds like you’re making the right decision for you, today. And that’s pretty freaking great.

    Also? When I had to carry my child kicking and screaming out of Best Buy for the 2nd day in a row (I don’t know why we ended up visiting Best Buy 2 days in a row), I wasn’t so sure about being at home, myself. 2-year-olds are so helpful when you want to doubt your decisions. Luckily, they do grow, so there’s that.